American Gangster (Scott, 2007)

Who knew an American crime saga brimming with potential political undertones and timely themes could be so bland? For all the hype, prestige, and studio backing involved in a project like American Gangster, one would expect some immediacy, or even tension. But for most of Ridley Scott’s epic tale of corruption and drugs the lead characters, honest cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) and big time Harlem hoodlum Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), move inconsequentially through a disintegrating world like titans amongst imbeciles. The Vietnam War, Watergate, or the upcoming mass inflation; all get noticed via the television, but none makes a meaningful impact on Lucas or Roberts’ lives. To make matters worse, the supporting players, everyone from Roberts’ special narcotics unit (their police work consists of taking pictures and arguing over sports) to Lucas’ threatening (or not) brethren, only respond from the direction of their superiors and in such inane ways it’s both distracting and frustrating. Roberts and Lucas aren’t challenged until the brief but exciting shootout finale, which comes far too late in a dreadfully lame line-up of cop genre caricatures and flashy cutting. Ridley, where’s the sharp menace of Alien and Blade Runner? While mildly entertaining, mainly due to Crowe and Washington’s mere presence, American Gangster flounders as a anything more than a mild diversion, Scott choosing to piece-mail arduous montages with phony sentiment and devotion for historical references, This films does not have the political situation in Vietnam or the harsh realities of drug abuse on it’s mind, nor is it an indictment of the American military for helping to ship Lucas’ drugs hidden in the coffins of G.I.’s. American Gangster revels in past cliche, hoping Oscar voters and audiences will fall in line (much like Roger Ebert has – come on four stars!) due to the marquee names behind it. However, American Gangster represents an all to familiar example of Hollywood’s conveyor belt methodology at it’s most benign, mixing hot commodities and money for a quick and profitable result, inevitably churning out a glossy, dull, and ambivalent product. Frank Lucas might think after watching the mainstream version of his life, the demand remains high for a quality fix.

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